Had a few disappointments cooking for the freezer? Follow these savvy tips for freezer cooking so you don’t get soggy noodles and black potatoes.
So, I’ve noticed a trend in the Pinteresty-freezer cooking realm. Folks share these beautiful photos: stacks of freezer meals in pretty little bags and tell you how quick and easy it is. It gets you jazzed. And then you buy all the ingredients for their recipes and spend the requisite hours to prepare the meals, only to find out upon preparation that the potatoes in the potato soup turn black or the vegetables in that crockpot dish are mushy beyond recognition.
As someone who preaches freezer cooking, I find this very frustrating and counter-productive to The Cause.
Maybe you’re one of those people who’s been turned off by freezer cooking because it doesn’t taste good or feels like a waste of time. Ugh. The very thought of eating food from the freezer turns you off. Maybe you followed all the directions and it blew up in your face. Maybe you made fifteen batches of potato soup and now have black potatoes.
This should not be!
I’m sorry that you were misled. Maybe those meals really work for that person on Pinterest or maybe they jumped the gun and posted before they fully tested their recipes. There’s always a reasonable possibility that no one purposely misled you.
On the other hand, let’s be honest. There’s a lot of crap masquerading on Pinterest as a viable idea. Could be that as well. Ahem.
I don’t want you to be sold a bill of goods, particularly of the frozen variety. So, today I present….
Tips for Freezer Cooking so You Don’t Get Soggy Noodles and Black Potatoes
I spent two years testing recipes for my freezer cookbook. I cooked more than I ate, and I still gained ten pounds. The freezer was packed to the gills at all times because I needed to know that food would taste just as good when thawed, reheated, baked, etc. as it did when it was freshly made.
And yes, we threw away food that year that was inedible. Not everything was a home run, or even a base hit, my husband’s grading system for recipes. (Fun fact: Only doubles or better make it into one of my cookbooks!)
I learned a lot about what you can and can’t freeze successfully during those two years. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of that kind of stuff parading on Pinterest. I want to reach through my computer screen and cover your eyes from seeing some of that nonsense.
So, here are a few tips for freezer cooking that I hope you’ll keep in mind.
1. Potatoes must be cooked before frozen. (And some potatoes freeze better than others.)
The uncooked potatoes you find in the freezer section of your grocery store have been treated before freezing so that they’ll retain taste and texture. You can’t easily recreate this at home. Raw potatoes will turn black and gross.
It’s best to cook potatoes before freezing them, and even then to be selective about which kind of potatoes to use. Russets will work fine for mashed potatoes and twice baked potatoes. In some recipes, though, they get a little mealy and mushy. Waxy, red potatoes hold up better in soups and casseroles.
Use red potatoes whenever you can and always cook and cool them before freezing.
2. Noodles should be cooked al dente, if at all.
Pasta dishes are some of my favorites to freeze because they’re cheap to make, kids love them, and they easily feed a crowd. However, keep in mind that noodles will get softer in the freezer. Trust me when I say you don’t want soggy noodles. Been there, done that.
If you’re preparing a baked noodle casserole, like Pesto Penne and Cheese or Easiest Mac and Cheese, make sure that you cook the noodles al dente. When I’m making lasagna for the freezer, I don’t even cook the noodles at all. You don’t to buy “no boil” lasagna noodles: I use regular noodles and abundant sauce and it works great.
3. Vegetables should be blanched or slightly pre-cooked before freezing.
With few exceptions, you should not freeze raw vegetables. I don’t care what you say about those “dump and go” crockpot meals, if you’re not precooking the vegetables slightly, their taste and texture will be off. Not to mention that vegetables cook much faster than meats, so the whole mess will be one bit pot o’ mush.
Freezing vegetables is a great strategy to stretch your dollar, avoid waste, and preserve your garden harvest. You can freeze onions, peppers, and mushrooms, uncooked. Just slice and open or flash freeze until firm so that you can package them and use only as much as you want.
Other vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots, need to be blanched or steamed for a short amount of time and then shocked in cold water and patted dry. This will help them retain taste and texture. A good guide for knowing what to do for each vegetable is the Ball Blue Book of Preserving.
Psst… Most of those crockpot “dump and go” meals are, well, a crock. I did some experimenting awhile back and found that the vegetables lost texture or the meat became really tough sitting in tomato sauce and similar sauces. I generally don’t recommend them.
4. You can freeze eggs, but not in all ways.
Freezing eggs to extend their shelf life is fine — if you remove them from the shell. Otherwise they explode. But, it depends on how you freeze them for them to taste good.
I once read about a lady who bought extra eggs on sale, cracked each one into a section of an ice cube tray, and then stored the egg cubes in a bag to use later. Eggs frozen this way should be good for baking, but not as whole or fried eggs. I know because I tried to prepare “baked eggs” in advance with the idea that you could thaw and bake, no problem. Yes, problem. Using frozen eggs as fried or baked eggs is not something I recommend.
Neither do I recommend freezing baked egg dishes. Every time I’ve done this, the texture has been off, similar to cafeteria eggs in college.
However, raw, beaten eggs frozen in a quiche do amazingly well. I freeze unbaked quiche, frittata, and other egg dishes all the time, so use your sale eggs that way!
5. Thawing before baking usually produces the best results.
There are lots of recipes out there boasting that you can “bake from frozen”. Proceed with caution. While there are some great freezer meals that you don’t have to thaw, many recipes do produce better results when you thaw them before baking.
Can you cook a Stouffer’s frozen lasagna or a TV dinner from frozen? Of course you can! But, I thought we were making freezer meals so that they tasted better than that jazz. Amiright? Yes, yes, I am.
Thaw your casserole overnight in the fridge before baking. The texture will be better, and you’ll have more accurate baking times, too.
Freezer cooking is an excellent way to save money and time, eat more healthfully, and get yourself a little ahead in your “life as Mom”. Unfortunately, there are a few simple things that if ignored can result in disappointed home cooks, disgruntled family members eating mediocre food, or both.
I hope these tips for freezer cooking help you to avoid soggy noodles and black potatoes.
6. Not all cheeses can be frozen.
You can freeze goat cheese very easily as well as freeze cheese that has already been shredded, but avoid freezing bricks of cheese that you plan to shred or slice later. Bricks as well as cheese slices will crumble upon thawing.
Just came across this link on, ahem, Pinterest. I am preparing for my sixth birth and wanted to find some freezer-friendly vegetarian meals. I just realized you’re the same Jessica Fisher, author of the great freezer cookbook I stumbled upon on Amazon years ago! I really like most recipes but we eat very little to no meat, so I wish the chapter “Meatlesss Marvels” comprised most of the book! Plus, I’m from Europe so Monterey Jack cheese is not even available here, amongst other things. This does not bother me much because I am good at improvising and adjusting, usually. What would you still recommend for postpartum?
Hi Tara! Yes, I am one and the same. 😉 I’m so glad that you enjoy the book. I am working on a new edition and will keep in mind the desire for more meatless recipes.
As re: postpartum, I’d look to things that are individual servings: wraps, burritos, soups, etc. So often new parents don’t get to eat at the same time and no one wants cold food. Plus, Mom needs snacks throughout the day. Look to items that you can reheat just for yourself if need be. Hope that helps! And any mild, white melting cheese is a good replacement for Jack cheese, such as provolone or mozzarella.
Making some freezer meals with my daughter tomorrow. Lasagna. Don’t cook the noodle? Am I reading that right. Can I use and freeze the no boil noodles! What about lasagna roll ups? Or eggplant rollotini?
You can use no boil or regular. Both work without cooking. This won’t work for roll ups obviously. I don’t know what eggplant rollotini is so I can’t help you there.
What about freezing cooked rice? I make your Mexican rice recipe often but it always makes too much. I would love to be able to freeze for another meal if it will hold up well.
Yes, you can freeze it. Just be sure to cool it completely before placing it in the freezer. I don’t usually have leftovers at my house, but it seems to hold its texture best in a ziptop freezer bag.
Oh I’m so glad you posted this! I want to get into freezer meals, but it looks like I could have spent a whole bunch of time and money (which is what we’re trying to save by this method, right?) and gotten meals my hubby and I might not have been to thrilled with. I’m go into check out your site more! Thanks!!
Thanks so much!
My family and I love quiche. I was worried about freezing it. If I freeze it before cooking, when I get it out, should it be thawed or baked from frozen? Thanks for all the great tips!
I bake it from frozen, then the crust doesn’t get soggy. You can read my Quiche for Freezing Tips here: https://goodcheapeats.com/2016/04/quiche-recipe-basics/
Regarding the whole egg thing, are making breakfast burritos with pre cooked scrambled/fried eggs successful? Or are those a no no as well? I’ve seen some recipes that scramble the eggs and add fresh peppers, then cooked sausage or bacon and wondering if they’d be successful for freezing and reheating in the microwave. Thanks for all the great tips!
I don’t care for the texture of cooked eggs that have been frozen. It changes too much for my taste buds. Your mileage may vary. Next time you make breakfast burritos, I would make one to freeze. Fill the cold tortilla with cold fillings, wrap well, and freeze. Better to sacrifice one burrito over a dozen.
I make burritos for my daughter all the time and freeze. They work out great!! Precook any veggies just under where you like them because they will cook again. Cook meat. . Crack and beat eggs with a little cream (about a tsp per egg). Add your meat and veggies to eggs WHILE you are cooking. (My burritos have a lot of veggies, about 3 cups, 1 lb turkey sausage to a dozen eggs.). Let cool. Depending on the type of tortilla you use, you may need to heat just enough so they don’t crack. (10 sec. on each side in a hot, dry pan) When eggs are cooled, put desired amount on tortilla, add cheese if you want, roll up, wrap and freeze. We reheat by using the DEFROST option on microwave (1/2 lb. if your microwave has that option, or about 4 minutes) If you know the night before you will be eating in the morning, put in fridge to thaw. Reheat for 45-60 seconds, depending on how many watts your microwave is! Great to eat on the go or heat and top with salsa!!!
How do you keep a meal with frozen tortillas from getting soggy? My sister-n-law made us a casserole with tortillas when I had a minor procedure done and the tortillas were soggy. ?
It depends on what kind of dish it is. Usually with enchiladas, frying the tortillas in hot oil until leathery tends to work well.
Ok – so here’s my question.
We buy a half a cow once a year. What do you think about thawing ground beef in the fridge to make burger patties and then refreezing them?
Theoretically, according to the USDA, that is fine. You may lose some moisture that is lost during the thawing process, but it is safe. I wrote about this recently on Good Cheap Eats here: https://goodcheapeats.com/2016/08/can-you-refreeze-meat-thats-been-thawed/
I’ve been hesitant to go whole hog freezing meals ahead of time after some bad experiences growing up (sorry Mom, but they were nasty!). I loved the tips for eggs.
When freezing veggies, sauces, ect. I not only label the bags or containers, but I also date them. That way I make sure to use the oldest stuff up first.
I also dice up and freeze herbs. There’s nothing like “fresh” dill in the middle of a frigid northern Canadian winter! Yummy!
Frozen herbs is great! When we got a regular produce box, I always had bags of different herbs in the freezer.
I’m not a mom but I am soon to be married and a college student. These tips are SO helpful. I’m planning on prepping and freezing meals and I’m sure my husband will be thankful that your post spares him several mishaps.
Let me know how I can help!
Wish I saw this before I just spent an enormous amount of time and money making freezer crockpot meals! Keeping my fingers crossed they won’t all be a complete fail! Get tips, definitely remembering this for my next attempt (if I ever feel like doing that again).
How did they turn out?
Wow I’m so glad i found this post. I’ve never been a fan of the freezer crockpot meals. I found that i could chop everything up and stick the crock pot in the fridge the night before and have it ready to go for the morning. There are some great tips on here and I’ll be bookmarking. One thing that i do want to experiment with is freezing muffin batter. I got some 2 oz silicone molds that should work nicely. Wish me luck!
Maybe freeze just one muffin next time you’re making a batch to bake. Test that way without risking the whole batch. A friend tells me that it doesn’t work well, so I never bothered.
I always just freeze muffins after baking and find they’re generally pretty good.
Here is an idea I just had while reading this. Since you can freeze cook/ lasagna noodles without boiling them, could you do the same with spaghetti or penne if you were making some type of pasta bake with noodles sauce meat and cheese? Loved these tips by the way. I have found some crockpot freezer dump recipes that work, but many do not.
I am not sure that would work; I’ve never tried it. You could test it with a small amount of sauce and pasta in a small baking dish, like personal size. That way, if it doesn’t work, then you won’t have wasted a lot of food.
I’ve done family spaghetti meals & they work fine but basically save no time at all. You have to bake them for the same amount of time as lasagna! And really spaghetti is pretty quick.
But I’m considering revisiting it as single serving mom-i’m-starving-right-now microwavable dish. Like those Michelinas that are tasty, but homemade healthy.
Yes!! I think that your 2 years of hard work and refinement of the recipes is soooo key! Your books are loaded with ideas and repeatable successful recipes. Thank you for the “scam” Pintrest post! Photos can look like reality, when in reality they are a fake! Enjoy your summer!!!
Thanks for your kind words!
I actually do really well with lasagna, using cooked noodles. I make lasagna rolls ups, and when I make one pan I always make two! I’m always afraid to thaw freezer meals, so I just cook that from frozen. (Because, FYI, thawing homemade chicken pot pie before baking is NOT A GOOD IDEA. Ugh.)
I agree. Chicken pot pie should NOT be thawed before baking. So sorry you had that experience!
Yes, cooked lasagna noodles should do fine when al dente. I just find it’s one more step that I could do without. I’ve gotten lazy in my old age. 😉
Thanks for the tips. I’ve always avoided freezing most potatoes & pasta, because I didn’t want the mush. The exception is lasagna. My favorites tend to be things that are already cooked, the reheat and simmer in the crockpot- like different types chili or sloppy joes. It’s so nice to have on a crazy, busy day!
Thanks for the tips! I’m getting ready to do my first big freezer cooking session (your NYM Freezer cookbook is one of my favorites; but I usually just make the food and eat it that day, lol) so this was a very timely post!!
How did your cooking session go?
Thank you, Jessica for exposing some of these pinterest dump meals for the disappointments they are… i have made a few losers-mushy, overcooked chicken, and unrecoginizable vegetables…I am going to try your system now!
Good luck! Be sure to let us know what works for you!
Great tips! I am looking for some meatless meals to serve my family (tricky since my husband doesn’t like to eat beans) – and this post has several ideas for that.
I can’t wait to try the lasagna! Not cooking the noodles makes it sound MUCH easier. Have you ever tried whole wheat lasagna noodles? I am thinking they should work but may need more sauce.
Thanks for all you do!
We only use whole wheat pasta. I have made lasagna not precooking( who thought that was a good idea anyway 🙂 ) w/ the whole wheat noodles & our family really likes it. These ideas are great. Our family doesn’t mind precooked egg dishes so people could try one & see if they like them 🙂
Yes, whole wheat noodles will work. Just add extra sauce.
Never say to yourself “It took so long to make this, I could never forget what it is” and not label it. That’s the way to a mystery dinner or breakfast. I have a wonderful friend who gives me eggs from her chickens and I’ve combined them with garden greens, cheese and milk/cream for many an egg bake. But without a label I don’t know if it is spicy peppers, beet greens and cheddar or basil, oregano, spinach and mozzarella? You get the idea.
Also, beware of cream cheese in the crock pot meals! I found a creamy chicken taquito recipe on Pintrest (ahem) and they instructed you to put the cream cheese in from the beginning… That just makes for curdled cheese. Instead, add it in at the very end.
However, I found a gem on Pintrest too 🙂 Bag holders ( https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0049NQEKO/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1) work great for keeping you bags open while you pour in your soup, marinade, or whatever.
Good to know. I don’t usually do cheesy crockpot meals.
Those bag holders are a pain for me to store. I have one but I hardly ever use it.